A revised talent pathway model is in the works after the NAB League season was officially cancelled on Tuesday.
It means top-age Murray Bushrangers talents that would have seemingly missed their best opportunity to make one final push toward AFL Draft selection could yet be afforded another chance to press their cases at the under-age level.
The NAB League boys’ season had been scheduled to proceed for country-based teams on August 22, with the girls’ season to recommence on September 5, before the reintroduction of Stage Three COVID-19 restrictions and a state-wide ban on community football until September 13 made it an impossibility.
AFL head of talent pathways Tristan Salter said little choice was left after the Victorian Government's restrictions were tightened across metropolitan and regional areas.
“All levels of the game across Victoria have been impacted by the health pandemic this year and under the new restrictions, any form of training and competition for both metropolitan and regional players and clubs is prohibited,” Salter said.
“We acknowledge this is extremely disappointing news for the players, coaches, officials, volunteers and fans of the NAB League competition and we commend every NAB League region that has worked tirelessly to find a way through.
“Every step of the way, our focus has been on the safety of players, coaches, volunteers, officials and our communities. Following the updated restrictions announced by Victorian State Government, it provided too great a challenge for all involved.”
But, in its media release announcing the cancellation, the AFL indicated opportunities would be coming for footballers affected by the decision.
One potential solution would be allowing an unlimited number of over-age 18 and 19-year-old players next season, while permanently shifting to an under-19 age limit would also allow them another year in the NAB League.
A date for the AFL Draft is yet to be set, while the AFLW Draft is set to be held in October.
“Throughout this pandemic the NAB League community has shown great resilience and perseverance and we admire and appreciate the continued positivity during a difficult year for our community. I am not alone in appreciating the challenges players, staff and their families are facing,” Salter said.
“We maintain our commitment to all players that we will continue to explore arrangements to assist them with their talent profile ahead of the NAB AFLW and NAB AFL drafts later this year.”
The AFL also said it would continue to investigate bringing together representative squads from Victoria Country and Victoria Metro for training and matches in the lead-up to the draft.